Realistic NFL Trades That Could Significantly Alter Teams' Plans in 2021
When it comes to the NFL offseason, it's good to have a plan. However, teams must also be prepared to change strategies at the drop of the proverbial hat when certain opportunities present themselves.
The Los Angeles Rams, for example, probably didn't think they'd be entering 2021 with Matthew Stafford under center instead of Jared Goff. When the former went on the trade market, though, they decided it was time to go all-in and acquire him.
The Rams are now firmly in win-now mode, while the Detroit Lions, who also received a pair of first-round picks in the deal, are poised for a long-term rebuild.
Here, we'll examine some potential trades that could significantly alter other teams' plans moving forward. While these transactions are purely hypothetical, we will keep them within the realm of the realistic, which means factors like draft capital and cap space will be considered.
For variety's sake, we'll limit trades to one per player, though teams will obviously have multiple options when it comes to making deals. Trades are listed in alphabetical order according to the featured player's name.
Baltimore Trades Orlando Brown Jr. to the Panthers
Baltimore Ravens tackle Orlando Brown Jr. filled in for left tackle Ronnie Stanley for the final 11 games of 2020. It now appears he isn't interested in moving back to the right side.
"I'm a LEFT tackle," he tweeted.
If Brown makes a big issue out of his role along the line, the Ravens may have no choice but to consider a trade. The Carolina Panthers, who are set to lose Russell Okung in free agency and may look to replace quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in the draft, could be a prime partner.
It's not a given that Carolina will target a quarterback in the draft, but the team did offer the No. 8 selection and Bridgewater for Matthew Stafford, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
While the Ravens couldn't expect to get the eighth overall pick for Brown, they'd likely get something significant in return.
"The only certainty at this point is that it’s going to take a very high draft pick—a first-round one, at the very least—to pry Brown out of Baltimore," ESPN's Jamison Hensley wrote.
If the Panthers believe they can land a franchise quarterback at No. 8, they may be willing to part with a future first-rounder to help protect him. That would take a big need off the board in free agency while leaving the Ravens looking for a new right tackle.
The Trade: Baltimore receives a 2022 first-round pick. Carolina receives Brown.
Las Vegas Trades Derek Carr to the Bears
The Las Vegas Raiders may be looking to move on from quarterback Derek Carr this offseason. According to Vincent Bonsignore of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, they are considering trading him in an effort to chase Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.
"Several NFL insiders expect the Raiders to field calls from teams inquiring about Carr's availability," Bonsignore wrote. "... Increased demand for his services, insiders say, could create a scenario in which a three-team trade allows the Raiders to acquire Watson."
Even if the Raiders don't have a realistic shot at Watson, they may look to enhance their draft capital—and, by extension, their chance of landing a high-end quarterback prospect—by dealing Carr.
One team that has a need for a quarterback and a recent trade history with Las Vegas? The Chicago Bears.
Bears general manager Ryan Pace swung big to obtain Khalil Mack in 2018, and he could look to do so again for Carr. That would provide Chicago with a quality starting quarterback to pair with its playoff-ready roster.
The Bears' quarterback search would be over for at least the next couple of offseasons. Meanwhile, Las Vegas would either be on the hunt for a new signal-caller or try to build around backup Marcus Mariota.
The Trade: Chicago receives Carr. Las Vegas receives a 2021 first-round pick, a 2021 second-round pick and backup QB Nick Foles.
Philadelphia Trades Zach Ertz to the Bengals
The Cincinnati Bengals are currently armed with the fifth overall pick in the draft and should be looking to use that selection on an offensive lineman. Upgrading the protection for Joe Burrow needs to be the team's top priority this offseason.
However, the Bengals also need a pass-catching tight end—Drew Sample led the position with just 349 receiving yards in 2020—and could be tempted by a prospect like Florida's Kyle Pitts.
Enter the Philadelphia Eagles and Zach Ertz. They could save nearly $5 million in cap space by cutting or trading the veteran tight end, and that could be big. They are projected to be more than $51 million over the cap.
Given Philadelphia's lack of trade leverage—and the possible need to extend the 30-year-old Ertz—Cincinnati may not have to surrender a ton to get him.
Swapping first-round selections and conveying a Day 3 pick might be enough to get a deal done here. Philadelphia could move one spot closer to landing its preferred target (possibly Pitts) while also getting some cap relief. The late-round selection could help offset the loss of any compensatory pick that might come from releasing Ertz.
Cincinnati, meanwhile, would add a Pro Bowl-caliber tight end to its receiving corps while still remaining positioned to grab one of the top offensive linemen in the 2021 draft.
The Trade: Cincinnati receives Ertz and the sixth overall pick in 2021. Philadelphia receives the fifth overall pick in 2021 and a 2021 fifth-rounder.
Atlanta Trades Julio Jones to the Ravens
It feels unlikely that the Atlanta Falcons will want to part with star wideout Julio Jones this offseason, largely because he has $38.6 million in dead money remaining on his contract. According to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero, both he and quarterback Matt Ryan are expected back.
However, Falcons team president Rich McKay did leave the door open for trades early in the offseason.
"Give us a plan," McKay said, per Jeff Schultz and Tori McElhaney of The Athletic. "Show us what you want to do and show us why. Show us how this gets us to Ws and make sure you actually execute the plan."
If the right offer comes along, Atlanta could consider it. The prospect of landing a wideout like Ja'Marr Chase or DeVonta Smith with the fourth overall pick in the draft could also play a role.
The Baltimore Ravens, meanwhile, still lack a true No. 1 target for quarterback Lamar Jackson. Dealing for Jones would remedy that.
Jones is 32 years old, but he's still one of the toughest players to cover when healthy. Despite playing just nine games in 2020, he still finished with 51 receptions, 771 yards and three touchdowns. Marquise Brown led the Ravens with 769 receiving yards in 2020, and he played all 16 games.
This deal would give Baltimore the No. 1 receiver it has been missing while lending new Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot more ammunition for the coming rebuild.
The Trade: Baltimore receives Jones. Atlanta receives a 2021 first-round pick.
Denver Trades Von Miller to the Browns
The Denver Broncos are in a tough spot with edge-rusher Von Miller. He is coming off a season lost to surgery and is also under criminal investigation in Colorado, though details haven't been released, per Kieran Nicholson and Ryan O'Halloran of the Denver Post.
Denver cannot expect a significant return in a potential trade. However, the Broncos may prefer to move Miller rather than outright release him or exercise their club option for 2020. That last route would trigger a cap hit of more than $22 million. Instead, they may look to exercise the option and trade Miller, saving $17.5 million in salary in the process.
The Cleveland Browns might just be willing to take on that salary.
Cleveland needs a bookend pass-rusher to pair with Myles Garrett. Olivier Vernon filled that role in 2020, but he's scheduled to be a free agent and is coming off a ruptured Achilles. According to Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com, the Browns have already spoken with the representatives of the recently released J.J. Watt.
If Cleveland cannot land Watt, trading for Miller could be a terrific Plan B. Doing so would take one major need off the board in free agency and the draft while producing a potent pair of pass-rushers.
For Denver, the trade would provide clarity about Miller's future while generating a ton of extra cap space.
The Trade: Cleveland receives Miller. Denver receives a 2021 third-round pick.
Cleveland Trades David Njoku to the Patriots
It's no secret the New England Patriots need a new quarterback. Tom Brady is off winning Super Bowls in Florida, and the Cam Newton experiment yielded just a seven-win season.
However, the Patriots also need pass-catchers for their next signal-caller in a big way.
Jakobi Meyers led New England with just 729 receiving yards in 2020. Things were even more disappointing at tight end, where Ryan Izzo led the position with only 199 receiving yards. Adding a quality tight end should be an early goal.
That's where Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku comes in.
Njoku flashed potential in 2018, racking up 639 yards and four touchdowns. However, he hasn't been a consistent playmaker and saw his role diminished when the Browns added Austin Hooper last offseason. That led to a trade request last summer.
"We weren't really on the same page, the Browns and I," Njoku told The Jim Rome Show (h/t Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com. "We were trying to figure things out, trying to make sure both parties were happy, and it was very complicated. This game is very political. Obviously, if it was just X's and O's and straight football, it would be a lot clearer."
Cleveland kept Njoku for 2020, but it could revisit the trade request now that he's entering the fifth year of his rookie deal. It wouldn't get a ton in return, but it could fully open the door for Hooper and 2020 fourth-round pick Harrison Bryant.
New England would fill a huge need by adding a tight end oozing pass-catching potential and upgrade the receiving corps for the team's next signal-caller.
The Trade: New England receives Njoku. Cleveland receives a 2021 fourth-round pick.
Houston Trades Deshan Watson to the 49ers
Right now, the Houston Texans insist they aren't going to trade quarterback Deshaun Watson.
"The goal is to get him back, period," one source told NFL Network's Tom Pelissero and Ian Rapoport.
However, Watson is looking to get out of Houston. If a holdout appears to be on the horizon, the Texans may reconsider their stance, which would allow the star signal-caller to become a prime target for the San Francisco 49ers.
The 49ers had a Super Bowl roster in 2019, but injuries derailed their 2020 campaign. With a healthier team and Watson—one of the league's few truly elite quarterbacks—they would almost certainly be among the NFC's favorites.
San Francisco could include quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo as part of a trade package. That might entice Texans general manager Nick Cesario, who was with the New England Patriots when Garoppolo was drafted. While Garoppolo may not outright replace Watson, he could serve as a placeholder while Houston searches for its next franchise signal-caller.
This potential move would alter the plans of both franchises quite significantly. Houston would likely be in the market for a quarterback who can compete with Garoppolo, while San Francisco would spend the rest of the offseason trying to forge a roster that could make a run.
The Trade: Houston Receives Garoppolo, a 2021 first-round pick, a 2021 fourth-round pick, a 2022 first-round pick and a 2022 third-round pick. San Francisco receives Watson.
Philadelphia Trades Carson Wentz to the Colts
The Indianapolis Colts need a new starting quarterback following the retirement of Philip Rivers, and the Philadelphia Eagles are looking to move on from quarterback Carson Wentz and give the stage to Jalen Hurts.
With Wentz's former offensive coordinator, Frank Reich, now the head coach in Indianapolis, this trade would make a ton of sense, and it has reportedly been discussed. According to ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski, the Colts have offered a pair of second-round picks to the Eagles.
"My understanding is that the Colts have offered two second-round draft choices—maybe a third or fourth somewhere down the road. That appears to be the best offer I have heard from all the sources that I have around the league," Jaworski told Jeff Skversky of WPVI Philadelphia (h/t NFL reporter Dov Kleiman).
Should the Eagles pull the trigger, they would put their 2020 drama firmly behind them—head coach Doug Pederson is already out—while handing the offensive keys to their 2020 second-round pick.
Indianapolis, meanwhile, would have its successor to Rivers and a solution to its biggest offseason need.
The Trade: Indianapolis receives Wentz. Philadelphia receives a 2021 second-round pick, a 2022 second-round pick and a 2022 fourth-round pick.